Disposable parks?

In recent months, the future of Westwood Park has regrettably become a divisive issue in our community. The Friends of Westwood Park is a broad-based group made up of both residents of the Westwood neighborhood and citizens from every part of our city. We strongly support the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission's goal of buying land needed for active parks and &

equally important &

open space and wild parklands.

However, we strongly oppose the strategy of financing new acquisitions by selling or otherwise disposing of existing dedicated Ashland parks, open space and natural areas. We question the wisdom of modifying the Parks and Open Space Plan by reducing protected lands without the same intense citizen involvement that called for their preservation.

When the Westwood area was planned, a community development compromise protected the remnant of the open meadow and woodland on City-owned land for future generations. The City established a 10-acre park, while reserving a 2-acre surplus City lot across the street for disposal and development, along with the private land along Westwood Street. The City sealed the deal when it dedicated Westwood Park for park purposes in 1990, approved by the parks commission and signed by then-mayor Catherine Golden. The park was further "ratified" in a set of heavily-attended public discussions that culminated in the highly praised Parks and Open Space Plan of 2002.

The City Council dedicated the surplus lot last year to raise nearly $1.8 million in sale proceeds to fund affordable housing.

Although Westwood Park is not yet widely known, it has something to offer everyone. The meadow has long attracted walkers, and the quiet oak and riparian woodland at the heart of the park provide an easily accessible wild land retreat for citizens young and old. The need for park improvements will grow as the surrounding community builds out and the number of visitors increase.

The Friends support a park plan with ecologically compatible improvements to serve the entire populace of Ashland &

picnic spots with views, an easy-access trail around the gently sloped meadow, a trail head to link to a future network of regional trails, nature interpretation and a restored meadow for informal play and gatherings. These uses cannot be accommodated in the ravines of Wrights Creek or on the steep slopes of Hald-Strawberry Park nearby.

The gently sloped meadow and woodland border along Westwood Street is the perfect place for these low-impact improvements to share the wealth of this unique meadow with visitors from all parts of town, while buffering the nearby wildlife habitat.

In July, the Parks Commission instructed staff to identify "surplus," "disposable" land within the Ashland Parks system. Except for the two tracts within Lithia Park that are permanently protected in the City Charter, our parks are being viewed as disposable financial assets, not irreplaceable places that provide Ashland citizens with our sense of place and feeling of community.

We question the wisdom of our cash-strapped Parks Department subdividing and selling off precious protected open space and natural areas. The Friends of Westwood Park firmly believe that existing dedicated park lands and natural areas anywhere in Ashland are irreplaceable assets for all the city's citizens, and should not be sacrificed to meet other priorities.

is the spokesperson for the Friends of Westwood Park, an informal group dedicated to protecting the park. For information, contact westwoodpark@mind.net.

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